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Friday, April 16, 2021

Digging out a 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate

1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon in green has been parked in woods for three decades and is covered in pine straw and sunk to the rims in the dirt.

The Big Green Family Machine. Junkyard Life gravitates toward some strange vehicles. For us, this find is not even that strange really. We love vintage station wagons. What were we supposed to do when the opportunity presented itself to own a well-optioned 1974 Caprice Estate Wagon?  

Look at all the boxes the original owner checked off… tilt wheel, air conditioning, power windows, power seats, power door locks, third-row seat, roof rack, and more. 

Power needed to cruise this castle down the highway was provided by a Small Block 400 with a TH400 transmission. Considering this Estate weighed slightly north of 5,000 pounds, torque under foot is a given. This behemoth isn’t going to like a small motor. Chevrolet didn’t even entertain the idea. The word “thrifty” and the name Caprice are not found in the same sentence. 


Rear tailgate on the 1974 Caprice features the glide-away option.
Disappearing tailgate? Yes!


Clam Up and Glide Away!

To have a moment of clarity is welcome. Let us clear our head and credit a really forward thinking option that many people have never seen. The awesome tailgates on the Caprice Estate wagons have a cool trick no one can deny. The “Glide Away” tailgate. This option (only available on the full-size wagons) would sell most people who dig new fangled gadgets and have fond memories of magicians at childhood birthday parties. 

  1. Insert a key into the quarter panel on the right rear of the car.
  2. Turn key to the right and the window DISAPPEARS into the roof.
  3. Turn the key to the left and *Alakazam!…the tailgate disappears! It slides under the floor leaving you with… wait for it… a totally open rear cargo area! As if you have no tailgate at all! Ta-Da! Cool. 

This made for easy access for loading and unloading. This changed the standards for tailgating parties forever. Tailgating sans the tailgate. Interesting.


"Caprice Estate" emblem on quarter panel of 1974 wagon.
Fun, quirky emblem on "Caprice Estate" is a symbol of a bygone era. Cell phones have never been aboard this beauty. All eyes up, seeing the world.


Green inside, green outside

The color of our former party wagon is also interesting. Code 49 on the trim tag. Some GM literature refers to this hue as Medium Green Metallic. Others call it Medium Green Poly. Our favorite paint of this era was Medium Dark Green. So, not too dark. No, not dark enough. A compromise was in order, but what do we call it? One year prior to our wagon, a beautiful green offered on the Trans Am (Code 48) Brewster Green.* 


Green interior of 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon includes a bench seat and has become a makeshift storage container.
Thirty years go by fast. Just the other day this 1974 Chevy Estate wagon was ending a career as the family car, handed down to the next (youngest) driver on the totem pole.  


Bench seat fun

Our big green party machine was used as a family car and fulfilled its station wagon destiny. Road trips to grocery runs, this wagon did it all. We spoke with the seller's daughter who took her driver’s license test in the green wagon. The car she didn’t want to be seen in has a fan following now. 

Now we load it up and assess the damage and fill out our rust and corrosion score card. How did the wagon fare in the battle of Alabama environmental elements? Inventory the good parts and bad parts. Once we have that hammered out, we can determine the fate of this car. Something good will come out of this. How could it not? Junkyard Life and a vintage wagon… What could go wrong?

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life


1974 Chevrolet Caprice Estate station wagon has been parked in woods for three decades and is covered in pine straw and sunk in the dirt.


Junkyard Life’s Full-Size Wagon Fun Facts (or Full Facts?):

  • Chevrolet only gave two choices of rear gear in the Estate wagon… 3.08:1 or an optional 3.42:1. Positraction was also offered, but unfortunately our example doesn’t have that.
  • Apparently, they also gave you two engine choices. A small block 400 (like our feature car has) or a 454 fat boy.
  • The small block 400 residing under the hood was not intended to be the mad powerhouse that the car community has now found them to be. It was a low RPM torque motor made for applications such as our wagon.
  • 1974 was the first year (for the Caprice) to have a 4-barrel on the small block 400 engine. 
  • Until 1972 if you noticed a Caprice or Impala with a “400” badge on the lower fender trim — you could be looking at either a small block 400 or a 402 big block. Yes, one emblem for two different engine. To our knowledge, they never made a 402 emblem.
  • The Glide Away tailgate proved to be popular across the board in GM full size wagons such as the Pontiac Safari, the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and the Buick Estate.
  • These big wagons really proved themselves useful. Over the years full-size wagon owners boasted the ability to carry sheets of 4' x 8’ plywood, sheetrock or paneling. Try that with your modern crossover.
  • Ron figured this wagon to be a 1973 model due to the presence of an external coil and points distributor. Jody said he had seen a 1974 with this pre-H.E.I. ignition. Ron bet it was a 1973 while Jody was rather confident. Jody was right. The 1974 was the last of that ignition and by 1975 electronic ignitions could be found under most General Motors products. Bye-Bye points and condensers. We won’t miss you. 
  • It is no secret that Chevrolet was targeting the Cadillac market with their high standards on the Caprice. But they had one advantage on that luxury model. Cadillac did not make a big wagon to option out this highly. Okay, we DO know that Cadillac did make a wagon. However, you would not want to ride in one. We mean for the “still on Earth” buyers. Don’t spoil our mood here.
  • The wood grain simulated finish was the industry salute to the days when actual wood was used on vehicles. “I got me a ’34 wagon, they call it a ‘Woody’” said The Beach Boys. From surfers to soccer moms, wagons are a life necessity. Us too.


Ron Kidd looks around the wagon for clues.
Ron Kidd exploring the forgotten wagon before we haul it home.


View looking over roof and luggage rack on 1974 Caprice Estate.
The view atop the stately battleship, known as a 1974 Caprice Estate wagon, looks promising. New roads ahead on the back of a trailer. Destination: The Junkyard Life Top Secret Undisclosed Storage Facility.



Editor’s Notes:
*This may be the only time we allow Ron to use the word “Alakazam!” in a story. He came up with this after the original phrase was cut in editing. In retrospect, we should have just let him say “open sesame” like he wanted. Now we have a story with the word “alakazam” in it.   

** We wondered how Ron would get through this assignment without making a Pontiac reference. There it is (with Brewster Green)



Do you have a classic car in the yard, or a great story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at junkyardbull@gmail.com 
or Ron Kidd at Kidd403@bellsouth.net.



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